Harvey Penick's Little Red Book Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf

 The author of this book "Harvey Penick's Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf" lived from 1904 - 1995. Penick was born in Austin, Texas. He began his golf career as a caddie at the Austin Country Club at age eight. He became the club's assistant pro five years later, and after his graduation from high school, was promoted to head professional in 1923, where he remained until 1973. After 1973, Penick continued teaching at the club.  He coached the following members of the Golf Hall of Fame: Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw Micky Wright, Betsy Rawls, and Kathy Whitworth. Penick was an excellent golf instructor, including the mental aspect of the game.


What separates Penick from a lot of the top teachers around the country today, is that he didn't believe that there is only 1 golf swing that is correct for all his students. Rather, he believed that as each student is unique so is their golf swing. His students have won major golf tournaments. Also, his emphasis on the short game. Often times, to get out of a problem, is to realize that your in one. And not use the same thinking you used to get into it, as the thinking used to get out. Do you know your swing problems? Do you know how to resolve them? 


An old pro taught Penick, that originality does not consist of saying what has never been said before; it consists of saying what you have to say that you know to be the truth. In this book, whats special was not that it had not been written before, but that what it says has withstood the test of time.


What's The Problem?

This is a difficult subject to understand. For you must realize that there is a problem to fix it. Does not admitting there is a problem mean that one doesn't exist? Or does sticking your head in the dirt mean the problems you may be frightened by go away? Will just ignoring the problem and hoping it resolves itself suffice? Well, in the golf swing, first decide if the thing to work on is the swing itself or the angle of the clubface at impact.

Face Angle (technical definition) – The horizontal club face orientation at the center-point of contact between club face and golf ball at the maximum compression of the golf ball

Face Angle- the direction the club face is pointed (left or right) at impact and is measured relative to the target line.

  • Target. Naturally, this is going to be the target for your shot. Sometimes, this will be the hole itself, but not always. You might pick out the center of the fairway as your target for a tee shot, or you may pick a spot on the green (away from the hole) as your target for an approach, if the hole is cut in a dangerous spot. Every shot that you hit during a round of golf, without exception, should have a specific target.
  • Target line. This is an imaginary line which runs from the golf ball to the target you have selected for the shot. It’s important to understand this line as much of what you do during the golf swing is going to be compared to the target line. It is worth noting that the target line does not indicate the path that you expect the ball to take as it flies from its current location up toward the target. Most likely, you are going to expect the ball to curve at least slightly in one direction or another, since hitting straight golf shots is extremely difficult. However, for the purposes of planning out your shot and assessing your swing, you are going to see the target line as a straight line which runs from your ball to the target you have picked out.
  • Swing path. The path your club takes as it moves through the hitting area is known as the swing path. This is one of the most important concepts in golf to understand. If your club is traveling perfectly down the target line as you move through impact, you are swinging down on a straight path. That would be extremely rare. More commonly, you will be swinging at least slightly from one side to the other. The two options are an inside-out swing path, and an outside-in swing path. As the names would indicate, an inside-out path is one which moves from inside the target line to outside the target line as it heads through the ball. An outside-in path does just the opposite. 
  • Face angle. At this point, we are going to get down to the business of explaining what it means to have a square club face. The face angle that you use at impact is another key ingredient in the overall success or failure of the swing. Don’t let this term confuse you – face angle means nothing more than the direction the face is pointing. If the face is pointing directly at the target, you are in a square position. There’s your definition! When the club face is pointed perfectly down the target line when you make contact with the ball, you have managed to find yourself with a square club face. Much like the straight down the line swing path, placing the club face perfectly square at impact is not a common occurrence. The club moves quickly through the hitting area while rotating from open to closed, so timing things up just right to achieve a square position is a tough task. Still, understanding square and what it means to your game is a valuable lesson.

Do You Need Help?

If you play poorly one day, forget it. If you play the next time out, review your fundamentals of grip, stance, aim, and ball position. Most mistakes are made before the club is swung. If you play poorly for a third time in a row, go see your professional. 

The Grip -  Penick suggests to find a pro that is of similiar height and weight and body structure and pattern your swing after theirs, but only if you imitate that layers grip. And stresses that a good grip requires lots and lots of practice. Unless, the student wants to commit to practice over weeks, not once or twice there can really be no complaints if the new grips or swing doesn't produce expected results. One grip does not fit all. The interlocking grip, with the forefinger of the top hand laced between the little finger and the ring finger of the bottom hand is for people with short fingers. The overlapping grip, with the little finger of the bottom hand wrapped into the hollow between the forefinger and the middle finger of the top hand or on top of the left forefinger, is the most widely used among golfers and expert golfers. The ten-finger grip, with all the fingers on the handle-sometimes called the baseball grip, although the baseball grip has the bat in the palms, while on the golf club the club is in the fingers.

In the famous Ben Hogan book, five lessons, Hogan says the tips of the thumb and forefinger of the bottom hand should never touch each other. Bobby Jones used the overlapping grip with the tip of his right forefinger not touching the handle at all. But the back of his first joint of his forefinger pressed against the handle. The Spalding built speciail grips with flat places for the back of Jone's right forefinger, which would be illegal today. If you pick up a yardstick and let your hands fit it, then swing it. Then put the same grip on a golf club. Penick has one common observation for all three grips, he doesn't want the thumb straight down the handle. Rather, he wants the thumb a little to the right. One fundamental is that the hands must be touching each other. They should be joined as one unit. They should feel like they are melted together. If you can get the ball to fly well, your grip is alright. If you try to do too much with your grip, you will find yourself making a corrective motion on your backswing, and then making a correction on the downswing, to correct for the backswing. As for your grip pressure, keep it light. Arnold Palmer liked to grip the clubs tightly, but you are not Arnold Palmer.

Stance - Penick says that the stance is as simple as turning toward the ball as if you were to shake hands with someone. Nothing more here to remember. If you naturally have feet that point in, or point out square them up. The Hogan stance stance shown here:

Is preferred by many good players. In this stance, the right foot is square to the target, while the left foot is open slightly, the advantage is a shortened up a long backswing with a tendency to make a full weight shift. The average golfer may want to turn the right toe slightly open to aid in a full hip rotation. If your goal is to close your stance, pull your right foot back a few inches from the line. Be sure to turn your hips and shoulders to fit it. Most average golfers think that if they pull back their right foot, they'll close their stance. When in fact, if they pull back their right foot but leave the hips and shoulders square, they haven't made any changes at all. 

To open your stance, pull your left foot back a few inches from the line and let your hips and shoulders go with it. Upon standing to the ball, just flex your knees a little, as if you are making the first move toward sitting down. Penick is cautious about using the phrase "sitting-down" to describe flexing your knees, because in his experience, when he says that, the student gets into a position that mimicks sitting in a chair.

Be comfortable and at ease, not straining anything.

Aim - One may tell where they are aimed by taking their stance and holding a clubshaft along the front of your thighs. Look at where the club is pointing, and you will see where you are aimed. However, laying a club at your feet will tell you very little. Hit the ball solidly, and I can show you where you were aimed. Once you learn this, your mind will tell you where you are aimed. 

Ball Position - In Penicks opinion, ball position is second in importance only to the grip. Mistakes made in the grip and ball position are mistakes made before the swing that may ruin any grand plans you have for the shot. Many instructors teach that the ball should be played off the left heel for all shots.

Mr. Penick disagrees, good players can do it nowadays off good lies. But if you play the ball off your left heel with a 9-iron, you are going to have to have a terribly fast hip shift to meet the club with the ball on the downblow. 

The driver and a teed up 3-wood are clubs that its a good idea to play off the left heel. This is true because you want to hit the ball slightly on the upswing or at the lowest point of the swing with these clubs.

With the rest of your clubs you move back a fraction of an inch at a time until you reach the dead center, which is where the 9-iron belongs.

If you aren't sure where to position the ball for any iron, take a couple of practice swings and note where the club-face brushes with the ground. Another way is to put down your iron on the grass with a square face, and you will see where the manufacturing designed the club to be played.

Penick's 28 Maxims:

  1. The wrists play very little part in golf. the crossing of the forearms puts the punch in the golf shot.
  2. The face of the club going off line produces more poor shots than anything I know of.
  3. If the club goes back properly there isn't much chance of a bad shot.
  4. Split the ball in half in your mind and play the inside half; the outer half shouldn't be entertained...just hit it.
  5. Learn to pick the ball clean- don't hoe it.
  6. Picture a shot going perfectly to the line.
  7. If the hands are joined together as one unit, you would be surprised the amount of relaxation attained.
  8. Knock the peg from under the ball. This helps to get the club straight through.
  9. Let the ball get in the way of the swing instead of making the ball the object.
  10. Don't try to pick the ball up-the club is built for that purpose.
  11. Hitting behind the ball is caused by weight being on the back foot. If the weight is forward it is impossible to hit behind the ball.
  12. The reason for not going forward is tenseness-keep the hands together, then the move forward is easy.
  13. Picture the shot as you would like to see it.
  14. Keep your feet moving to the line of flight. Don't let them freeze to the ground.
  15. Have a little power left- don't put it all in the swing. You may need it before the game is over.
  16. Let the club go where you expect the ball to.
  17. Finishing the swing is very important. Without a good finish, to keep the ball straight is luck.
  18. Get a system of some kind in playing. Any kind of a system beats trusting to luck.
  19. Topping the ball is caused by stiffening of the knees.
  20. Slicing is caused by the hands leading the head of the club. Tenseness plays a major part. The face of the club is not flush at impact.
  21. Anyone slicing the ball has reached the top of his game. The harder he hits it, the more it will slice.
  22. A ball lying badly, better to try to pick it in preference to hoeing it out.
  23. Be honest with yourself. What you would find out in six months of practice, your pro can tell you in five minutes.
  24. Hit the ball, then the ground-that will assure you of getting down to the ball.
  25. Let the right hip take the club back and the left hip bring the club forward.
  26. Try holding your right shoulder back as long as possible to give your left side a chance to get through.
  27. Hold the head of the club off the ground if you are inclined to be tense.
  28. Let the hands start slightly before the head of the club on the back-swing. 


Short Game:

Chipping- The first and foremost fundamental about chipping is: keep your hands ahead of or even with the club-head on the follow-through. All the way through. And grip your club down close to the steel. Flex your knees so you can get down to it. Keep the club near to you, instead of reaching out for the ball. Move your weight a little more to your left foot. Remember your are hitting the ball with your hands, not your elbows, so keep them loose. Mirror your putting stroke, in that you should take the follow-through as far forward, as you take your back-swing back. Use the straightest-faced club that will carry the ball onto the green the soonest and start it rolling toward the cup. On downhill or tight lies or into the wind or with a fast green, always choose to chip the ball rather than pitch it. High handicappers should use their putters from off the green whenever it looks feasible. They'll generally get closer to the hole this way.

Putting-   Mr. Penick gives the liberty to the right way one should putt as to how successful the individuals putting stroke is for him/her. However, there are some general fundamentals that are common in better putters. The game within the game. Just as in chipping, the first fundamental to learn about putting is: keep the hands even with or ahead of the head of the putter on the follow-through. Read your line from behind the ball. Walk to the ball from behind and take your stance with your hands slightly ahead of the ball or straight up. Glance at the hole and glance at your putter blade to make sure it is square to your line. Now take one, or two or three practice strokes, concentrating on each one as if you are trying to make the putt, judging the distance. Penick likes to see the stroke start with a small foward press, using the swing-the-bucket image. Then put your putter blade down behind the ball, keep your head and eyes still, and imitate your last practice stroke.

Never allow yourself to think about what is riding on the putt, whether it's a major championship or just a 50 cent wager. Hit the putt as if you have hit 10,000 putts in the past. Concentrate in imitating your final practice stroke, not on what will happen if you either miss it or make it. Another tip Penick gives is to practice your putting on a level surface on the green, or slightly uphill. Let the putt die into the hole. A ball that dies in the hole will fall in, while a putt struck too hard will hit the pin and spin away. The cup is only one inch wide for a putt that is struck too hard. The cup is four inches wide for a ball that dies into the hole. With shorter putts concentrate on the line. With longer putts concentrate on the distance. On short puts use the arms and wrists, and on longer shots use shoulders and take a longer back-swing and follow-through. Play the ball off the left heel. Once you develop a good system for putting, the rest is mental. Stay with your system. A practice method he gave his students is to stroke a few putts using only your right hand. When you get the feeling for it, let the left hand gently join it. Letting both hands work together. To develop touch on the green, Mr. Penick recommends to hit a 29 footer, then a 28 footer, and so on. Spend a lot of time on the putting green, the more time you spend there, the better your scores you will turn in.

Hole them all: Upon two parents coming over the Mr. Penick saying that they're son had just made his first birdie. He congratulated them, and asked how long was the birdie putt? They said that it was a gimme. He then told the parents that their son had yet to make his first birdie. The junior never sunk the birdie, but he also has it in his mind that he could pick up his ball from two feet and pronounce that he made the putt, without facing the truth. His rule is that everyone no matter how old, should be required to hole every putt. 


Learning- Harvey Penick divulges that he learns teaching from teachers, lerns golf from golfers, and learns winning from coaches.He seeks out those people whom think different than he does. And builds up his strength from working on his weaknesses. What good is it to learn from something that you already know? Quoting Horowitz he says "Never be afraid to dare. Never be afraid to play without asking advice. I'm not going to teach you, but to guide you". 

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